Rare fin whale found dead on B.C. beach, apparent victim of blunt force trauma

Department of Fisheries and Oceans Marine Mammal Response Team members remove baleen from a dead fin whale as they perform a necropsy at Pender Harbour, B.C., in a March 20, 2022, handout photo. The head veterinarian at the Ocean Wise Marine Mammal Centre and the Vancouver Aquarium says it is concerning when such rare animals die because it affects the population. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-DFO, Paul Cottrell, *MANDATORY CREDIT*. GAC

The body of a rare, young fin whale has been found on a remote beach on British Columbia’s south coast, says an official with the Fisheries Department.

Paul Cottrell, the department’s Pacific marine mammal coordinator, said initial examinations suggest the two-year-old whale was killed by blunt force trauma from a possible vessel strike on its right side.

“There’s lots of tissues that we took in. We’re examining lots of organs, samples and blubber and DNA and we’ll look for pathology and pathogens or any sign of disease in the animal,” he said in an interview.

“But there was this big, blunt force trauma event on the animal, so there may be a vessel strike. It possibly could have died from a vessel strike, but we’re still kind of working through all the information.”

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Fin whales are the second largest whale in the ocean, growing up to 27 metres long and weighing nearly 80 tonnes. They have a lifespan of up to 100 years.

Click to play video: 'Scientists baffled as dead whales continue to wash ashore in parts of Alaska'
Scientists baffled as dead whales continue to wash ashore in parts of Alaska

The Species at Risk Act lists fin whales in Pacific Canadian waters as threatened, with about 500 of them remaining.

Cottrell said the 13-metre-long whale probably died in mid-March before it washed ashore near Pender Harbour, about 100 kilometres northwest of Vancouver.

“Fin whales are very rare on the inside Salish Sea. Maybe every couple years we get a sighting, so it was really, really unique and odd,” he said.

Cottrell said fin whale deaths from ship strikes are “unfortunately common.” There was one such fatality in 2009, one in 2011 and two in 2015, he added.

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“They’re huge animals and they’re called greyhounds of the sea, and they tend to be susceptible to vessel strike.”

Martin Haulena, head veterinarian at the Vancouver Aquarium’s marine mammal rescue centre, said it is a concern because the death of a rare animal affects the whole population.

“Any mortality of a protected species that is directly caused by humans is of concern,” he said.

“Particularly when a population is in recovery like this population. They are still threatened but in slow recovery. It’s a big deal.”

Click to play video: 'Two dead whales found off B.C. Coast'
Two dead whales found off B.C. Coast

Cottrell said the baleen plate and some bones of the animal will be given to the shíshálh Nation, and the rest of the carcass will be left on the shore to be reclaimed by nature.

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He described the necropsy of the animal as emotionally and physically draining.

“It hits you deep,” he said. “Every animal is so valuable and when you lose one, and this is a young animal, it’s really sad. It hurts in places you didn’t know you had.”

— By Hina Alam in Vancouver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2022.

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